"The time of anarchistic potential for self-invention"
(Miranda July, Filmmaker, 2020)
Cult-MTL wanted to know how the pandemic is affecting the Quebec film industry. They interviewed several artists, screenwriters and producers who discussed Covid19 and its effects on their work. They speak about their fears, worries, anxiety, sadness, what they are losing, and how they are coping. But not what they are gaining.
I lived 17 years in Montreal, it is still my cultural home, where I cut my teeth, having graduated from Concordia's film school. I am still linked to Canada as a British-Canadian, yet I admit to not really knowing how they feel as I make documentaries. My current project, 6 months waiting for my brain, which is in pre-production and changing by the day, is about my brain tumour operation in September 2019, in Qingdao, China. It is being created, while I am in limbo-lockdown, with astonishing ease, in the UK.
Online documentaries are making headlines
Since the first images came from Wuhan in January 2020, cellphone documentaries are making headlines all over the world because of our social solidarity and helped by the Internet, which makes exchanging much easier and immediate. This moment in time has brought me to view my own work differently, to appreciate and welcome this fresh breeze, and to dismantle for now certain things I learnt at film school, and how I teach my students. I am getting my mind around new ways of doing, seeing and filming.
We teach online with our students in China via zoom, and have had to adjust.
This moment will not last forever, and after, who knows how we will work, but for now we are 'in' for another few months and have a chance to make something inspirational. As Miranda July, the American filmmaker and artist, recently said about creating in lockdown: "There’s so much anarchistic potential for self-invention and to dismantle all these old-fashioned ways of doing things."
I was asked this question the other day by my friend and documentary filmmaker, Helena Michie: In an unfolding situation (eg. Covid19), how do you find a unique idea or approach to carving out a story, especially when the whole world is documenting it? And how does this determine what footage and media you should be capturing?
On May 14th, my daughter's child, Violette, was taken to the Tunbridge Wells hospital by ambulance. The two-person team was incredibly empathetic, kind, concerned and did not waste time. I asked how they felt. They were angry at the UK's government's handling of the situation. They have never been tested, and their PPE is inadequate as it is flimsy. As they drove off, I took a single photo of my daughter sitting in the ambulance. This is my unique memory of that moment, etched in my mind. It will go into my video-diary dated week of May 10th. (Violette is fine now.)
My friend Rob has a Victure HC-800 camera 42, with infrared night vision. He films the wildlife activity in his garden. He loves hedgehogs. He will give me a few night's worth for my project. He has started a potato patch, records birdsong, repairs old radios. His wife Joe thatches, quilts, having an eclectic talent at turning her hand to all sorts of handicrafts. I did not know all of this until the other day. These elements are enough for a short documentary.
I have not filmed any video myself. I have only one badly taken photo. However, I have Rob's footage - lots of it. I can build around Violette and Alyosha's story using experimentation. So, with just one photo I could make a 10 minute segment, 'one moment in the life of. . . '
Bird Bath Fun - Rob and Jo's garden, May 2020
Freedom and restriction and our online world
Three months into lockdown, we have learnt to adjust, create and maintain our lives - just about. We have changed and we are accepting restrictions. Certain things have gone down like air companies and travel agents; others have zoomed up (pun).
The online world has exploded with Zoom tutorials, and live streaming with Streamstack, Streamhoster and many others. Never before in this way has ONLINE, been our LIFELINE.
Interview, interview, interview
It is our chance as artists to interview, delve deeply, and not be afraid to ask people if we can interview them. I am connecting with friends around the world, interviewing via Zoom and Skype, using audio, my camera, their photos, their writing. I do not mind how the image quality is right now. I notice, as you must, how we are accepting less polished images, as we understand where and how they were filmed or recorded. This does not seem to matter, which in the past it did. This does not mean that beautifully framed and breathtaking cinematography is not important. Of course it is, but a story via streaming, even if the lighting is not quite right, is REAL.
My family and friends' stories are varied and unique, as yours are. Even though they are being recorded during lockdown. To answer the question posed, even though the world is filming the same thing, no-one's story is the same.
One friend, Lou, ended his message for me with these word. The southern cross is dancing across the sky. A Torres strait lady drew me a Black Fellow map of the night sky - accurately. The whole sky for an entire year is one story. I will animate the words gliding across a dark screen.
There are demands for visual isolation stories
Open calls for "how we are living in the time of the virus" are almost an everyday occurrence. Production company Voyage Media, US, has lined up with storyteller and filmmaker Matt Ogens with "Windows, Call for Action." They propose a documentary shot from a window, anywhere in the world, in any shape or form, poetic, experimental, photographic. Last Monk Media from India want fiction or documentary in any style, shot only on cellphones, only from within your space.
These "made at home - in-house productions" give us, I deeply believe, freedom in our restrictions.
Much is beyond our control, but our inner focus of locus during Covid19, is within our frame-of-mind! As documentary creators, we can throw caution to the winds, forget rules, regulations, big crews, big cameras. We can get our cellphones and shoot our stories - from the front room.
Mixing Film Media
Filming in lockdown makes us a
On the trot-to-the-shop
On a jog
Stuck inside IN TOTAL CONTROL
Mixing mixed-media gives a wonderful dimension to our work. I always sneak in other media, I just cannot help it.
Family and friends have secrets and stories - DELVE
Luc Bourdon, experimental Montreal filmmaker, carved out his lyrical ode to Montreal, or 'visual love letter' as it is called by The National Film Board of Canada, MEMORIES OF ANGEL, from old clips from the 50s and 60s.
Personal viewpoint. Filming yourself.
If, like me, you are stuck in limbo, what is the space you want to get back to like?
Get creating, and thank you for passing by.
Next workshop - 26 May
FINDING THE CREATIVE APPROACH AND STYLE FOR YOUR DOCUMENTARY FILM
Filmmaker, teacher, traveller and storyteller